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One of the most common questions about criminal background checks is whether reports will show arrest records.
The answer depends on the state. Some states have laws prohibiting employers from asking about arrest records or using them for employment-related decisions. Since arrests themselves are not proof of guilt, they are unreliable and often unfair when used as a barrier to employment.
At backgroundchecks.com, we always exclude arrest history information from our background check reports to protect our customers from compliance issues. To learn whether your state legally allows the use of arrest records for hiring, read our white paper on the matter.
Similar to arrests, dismissed cases are not proof of guilt. However, a dismissed case may appear on a candidate’s background check. An arrest that never led to a criminal charge is one thing, but a criminal charge stays on the person’s record even if the charges are dismissed, or the case ends in a not guilty verdict.
Just because dismissed charges may show up on a background check doesn’t mean employers need to consider them. In most cases, employers recognize the difference between a formal conviction and a charge that ultimately didn’t go anywhere. To learn more about this subject, read our full post about dismissed cases and background checks.
If a candidate has successfully petitioned to have their criminal records sealed or expunged, those convictions should no longer appear on a background check report. An expunged record is essentially scrubbed from existence, while a sealed record should only be accessible to law enforcement.
Does your business have candidates whose criminal histories make hiring or providing specific benefits challenging? At backgroundchecks.com, we designed a program called MyClearStart to help employers get information about expungement into the hands of their applicants.
In most cases, traffic tickets or other driving-related infractions will not be included in criminal background check reports. Most speeding tickets are considered civil infractions rather than misdemeanors or felonies, and civil infractions rarely show up on criminal history checks.
That’s not to say that employers cannot find traffic citations with a background check. Motor vehicle record checks offer a way to find this information and are common for jobs that involve operating vehicles or heavy machinery.
Of course, there are driving offenses considered misdemeanors or felonies, including reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol. These convictions will appear on a criminal background report.
To learn more about what information may appear on a driving history check – from traffic tickets to license classification – visit our driving record background check product page.
There is debate about how effective this policy is in making employment more accessible for ex-offenders.
Champions say that it helps to reconfigure the mindset of employers and hiring managers in a powerful way, helping them to see beyond a person’s convictions to their skills and qualifications. According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute, these policies improve callback rates for people with criminal records, which means that they are effective for eliminating the tendency of hiring managers to immediately disqualify any candidate who self-identifies as having a criminal rap sheet.
That finding is significant, given the fact that–per the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)–a criminal background can reduce a person’s likelihood of a callback or employment offer by almost 50 percent.
However, critics of this legislation argue that it merely delays the moment in hiring when an employer would disqualify a candidate for a relevant criminal conviction, wasting both the candidate’s and hiring manager’s time. The Urban Institute study also found that banning the box has “reduced the likelihood that employers call back or hire young black and Latino men.”
An employment verification check is mostly meant to check the validity of the work history information a candidate provides on their resume. It’s not uncommon for job applicants to embellish their work history to make it look more impressive to a prospective employer. That might mean tweaking a job title, changing a start or end date, or listing job responsibilities outside the scope of the position. Employment verification checks involve contacting previous employers—usually HR staff—and verifying the accuracy of these key information points.
On the subject of employment history checks, one common question is what employers can or cannot say about a previous employee. If you are an employer, you may be wondering what you can ask a former employer about a job candidate or what you are allowed to say if an employer contacts you about a past employee.
Contrary to popular belief, no federal law restricts what employers can disclose about past employees. For instance, if the candidate you are screening was fired from a previous job, the employer can share that detail and explain the reasoning behind the decision.
However, just because there is no federal law on the subject doesn’t mean employers are always open to discussing anything and everything about their ex-employees. Most employers tread carefully here for fear of defamation lawsuits.
As a result, employers don’t typically want to comment too much on things that might be deemed subjective – such as the character or work ethic of past employees. Especially if the employer doesn’t have anything nice to say about their ex-worker, they don’t want to put themselves in a situation where they could feasibly be taken to court for slandering that person.
So, instead of asking questions that focus on an employer’s opinions about a past employee, most employment verification checks focus on objective and easily verifiable details. These details include verifiable employment dates, job titles, duties or responsibilities, and salary information.
In most cases, job seekers have a list of 2-3 professional references that they submit alongside their resume, cover letter, and job application. These references, theoretically, are people who are willing to speak favorably about the job seeker’s skills, abilities, work habits, and more. However, since job seekers ask references to speak on their behalf, reference checks can touch upon subjective topics that work history verifications usually cannot, including personality, character, and work ethic.
Read on to find out how we can check your candidate's references.
This query is one of the most frequently asked questions about banning the box from both employers and job seekers. Especially as the campaign started picking up steam a few years ago, professionals often mistakenly interpreted it as a ban of all criminal checks for hiring purposes.
In truth, these laws do not typically forbid employers from running checks on their applicants. However, some box-banning legislation does require a delay in obtaining a criminal check until after the first job interview or after making a conditional employment offer.
Some of these laws also restrict how an employer can use the information obtained in a check, require employers to give additional notices to applicants, or delay the hiring process by granting candidates the right to appeal employer decisions based on criminal history information.
None of these limitations states that employers can't disqualify applicants based on past convictions. A conditional offer of employment can be withdrawn. Some ban the box laws (including the Hawaii prototype law) do limit withdrawals to situations in which check findings indicate that an applicant has a criminal conviction history that directly affects their ability to perform the job in question.
For instance, an employer could fairly disqualify a candidate with multiple DUI or DWI convictions from consideration for a truck driver position, because those convictions speak directly to that person’s safety and responsibility behind the wheel. On the other hand, those same convictions have a very minor relationship to an office job and wouldn’t necessarily be legal grounds for an employer withdrawing a conditional hiring offer.
Ban the box laws encourage employers to consider criminal histories on a case-by-case basis rather than rejecting all applicants who check a crime records box on a job application or report specific types of criminal history. They function not to bar employers from considering conviction history when making hiring decisions but rather to bring nuance to those considerations.
How far back a criminal background check goes depends on the state. No federal law regulates the lookback period for criminal history checks. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) does have rules limiting the “adverse information” a credit bureau can report about a consumer.
However, that part of the FCRA only applies to credit history checks. There is no corresponding rule for criminal history checks.
Instead, most states decide on this matter on their own. Most commonly, criminal background checks are allowed to look back seven years.
These legislative requirements are part of a broader “Fair Chance” employment movement.
Proponents of this kind of hiring argue that discriminating against job candidates based on the slightest trace of crime records forces offenders to keep paying for offenses even after they have served out their sentences and paid their dues to society. Some employment advocates claim that offering more gainful employment opportunities for ex-offenders can reduce recidivism and prevent crime.
Sometimes, Fair Chance laws include banning the box elements. Other times, they focus on different factors, such as encouraging employers to consider past criminal misdeeds on a case-by-case basis rather than with a blanket policy that denies all candidates ever convicted of criminal activity.
Sometimes, these hiring laws don’t concern criminal information at all. For example, some localities have ordinances in place limiting employers’ ability to conduct credit history checks on their candidates.
Not all Fair Chance laws apply to hiring. As banning the box has grown more common, it has also developed momentum in housing. Some jurisdictions are limiting landlords in their ability to disqualify housing candidates based on criminal history.
Banning the box has also gained a foothold in higher education, with colleges and universities becoming more interested in fairly admitting students with criminal backgrounds.
While the box-banning campaign and the Fair Chance movement are often treated as synonyms, ban the box is just one piece of a broader movement.
Criminal history searches are just one part of a thorough pre-employment background check process. In addition to looking at criminal records, most employers take time to verify the information their candidates provide on resumes and job applications.
Lies, half-truths, or embellishments are unfortunately common in today’s job market. Because a criminal background check doesn’t reveal anything about a person’s past employment or education. It ultimately isn’t an effective tool to help employers flag lies about work history or college degrees.
These details must instead be checked using verification checks. There are a few different types of verifications available from backgroundchecks.com, including employment history, education, professional licensing or certification, and reference checks.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
These laws vary significantly from one state or local jurisdiction to the next. While your business is statistically likely to be in a part of the country where such a law exists (NELP says that three-quarters of the U.S. population now “lives in a jurisdiction that has banned to box”), that doesn’t mean that your company is obligated to do anything right now.
Of the 36 states that ban in the box, only 14 of them extend their requirements to private entities (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington).
20 areas–including Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and the District of Columbia–extend their protections to private jobs. Otherwise, most of these laws currently apply only to public employers.
You should take the time to research the legislative requirements in your state, county, and city or town. If a relevant law or ordinance is on the books, review the language of the law closely to determine whether it applies to your company. If you need help deciphering the law, our terminology page can help.
If the law does apply to your company, you will need to take the steps to comply–whether that means removing questions about criminal backgrounds from your applications, delaying your criminal checks until later in hiring, or something else.
Your business can also opt to abolish the box of its own accord. Some organizations have taken this step to signal that they are welcoming to individuals who have made mistakes in the past and are trying to rebuild their lives. Banning the box before you are legally required to do so can also put you ahead of the curve for compliance if your state or local jurisdiction does decide to end the box.
When most people think of a background check, they think of a simple criminal history check. In truth, though, most background checks entail much more than that.
Defined simply, a background check is the tool employers use to vet their candidates as thoroughly as possible. This process involves looking at criminal records, but it can also entail education and employment history, civil records, professional references, etc. A good background check shows a wide variety of information. Note that background checks can take several days to process, so planning and knowing what information you want to check is essential for ensuring a timely service.
Why is each of these types of information important? In the case of a criminal history check, learning about a person’s background may be vital to keeping your company, your employees, and your customers safe. Employment and education verifications help ensure that applicants have the skills and experience necessary to perform the job at hand. Some background checks can even verify whether applicants are truthful about their identity – and whether they are wanted internationally.
Call these processes what you will: background screenings, background checks or pre-employment screenings. Regardless of the name, these tools are always there to help protect your company from the risk of a bad hire. Those risks can include bad press, negligent hiring lawsuits, and other liabilities. Most employers believe detailed background checks are worth the cost of admission to minimize these risks.
One important thing to note here is the importance of identifying information for background checks. Most criminal records are filed by name, which can be a stumbling block given how many people share common names. Knowing other details about a candidate – such as their birthdate, Social Security Number, or where they live – is vital to help make sure records belong to your applicant. These extra pieces of identifying information can also help background check providers pull records associated with a candidate’s aliases or prior names, including maiden names.
The first step to understanding the implications of this law is to define what the law is. The “box” in the phrase refers to the question on job applications that asks applicants whether they have ever been convicted of a crime. Typically, candidates are asked to check yes or no to answer this question, hence the “box.”
Applications with this question require job seekers to self-identify as criminal offenders from the start of the job application process. A ban the box law is a legislative action that requires employers to remove this question–as well as any other criminal history questions–from applications.
These laws seek to prevent employment discrimination against individuals with crime records. The idea is that an employer gets a chance to form an initial impression of each applicant’s character, skillset, and overall job fitness before learning that he or she has a criminal past.
With no criminal history questions on the job application, and with checks often delayed until late in hiring, an ex-offender will theoretically have a better chance of being “the best person for the job.”
Most banning the box legislation also places other restrictions and requirements on employers. For instance, some states prohibit employers from inquiring about arrests, dismissed charges, sealed records, or history in a diversion program.
Some of these laws restrict employers from inquiring about criminal history until after the first interview or after they make a conditional offer of employment. Some jurisdictions require employers to consider other factors, such as time-related restrictions or whether the criminal history is job-related.
A civil history background check is an entirely different matter than a criminal background check. Where criminal cases are brought to court by the state, civil cases are brought instead by the alleged victim. For instance, if someone sues their neighbor over a property damage claim, that case becomes part of the civil court history for both the plaintiff and the defendant. A civil background check would therefore turn up information about that case.
Note that there are two types of civil history background checks: county and federal. To understand what shows on these different civil history records, read our blog post on the matter.
One of the most critical things to understand about banning the box is that it is not just one law. Rather, it is a broader trend made up of hundreds of different laws, ordinances, pieces of pending legislation, and on-the-ground advocacy campaigns. While it is possible that, someday, there could be a nationwide law, the current legislation is a patchwork.
Unfortunately, the current structure of banning the box legislation makes it more challenging for employers to understand their obligations. Some laws are enforced on the state level; others are ordinances that only apply to specific cities or counties. Some laws apply only to public employers; others include companies that do contract work with government departments, while some extend to private companies.
Even when banning the box legislation does apply to private businesses, it sometimes only requires compliance for employers with more than a certain number of employees, leaving smaller businesses to make their own decisions.
The trending nature of the fair employment movement means that laws are constantly changing. New jurisdictions are adopting their own box-banning legislation each year, while jurisdictions that already have laws or ordinances in place sometimes amend and update those laws to include new requirements.
Because of these factors, employers need to be vigilant about keeping up with the latest laws in their local jurisdiction and state. Before establishing a hiring policy or background check protocol, all employers should check relevant laws and ordinances to determine their obligations for compliance.
Failure to comply with these laws can result in fines and other legal consequences. Doing research before drawing up a job application or deciding when to run a check can help employers to avoid these costly lapses in compliance.
To help you, here are a few frequently asked questions about these laws, including the key details that employers should know about this legislative movement.